Bad news travels fast; fake news travels faster.
Fake news websites are intentionally fraudulent websites that release untrue stories and claim they are true. Although fake news has existed for years, the issue has gained attention after the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook has been accused of allowing for the propagation of fake news, and though it allegedly has the tools to shut down these sites, it has not used them. A 2016 report by the Pew Research Center said 66 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook, the algorithms of which are designed to produce more related misinformation once a false headline has been clicked.
English teacher Amanda Bross said fake news applies to what freshmen learn with “Fahrenheit 451.”
“We talked a lot with ‘Fahrenheit 451’ about how the citizens (of the book) are only given information that the government wants them to have,” Bross said. “These people are not educated and wouldn’t know how to think through things, how to spot news if it was fake. They don’t know if what they’re being fed is real or not.”
Fake news earns money from advertising – as a well known name in the fake news industry, Paul Horner makes approximately $10,000 a month – as it is shared through hyper-partisan social media.
Freshman Laura Roman, currently enrolled in Bross’ class, said that she researches authors and websites to determine credibility.
“If I’ve never heard of (of the source) before, I’ll research it online and see what other people have to say before using it,” Roman said. “I am very aware that there are some places that not only have false information, but also viruses and clickbait. You can also research the person who is creating (the source). If when researching them and looking at their history, they are known for giving fake information, then I know what they’re saying is most likely not true.”
A 2016 study by Stanford researchers tested the ability of students at the middle school, high school, and college levels to distinguish between legitimate and fake sources. In one instance, 30 percent of students argued that the fake news site was more trustworthy. The study said researchers were “taken aback by students’ lack of preparation” to analyze credibility.
Bross said Media Influence, the final unit of Honors English I, teaches students these skills.
“We look at the way the media reported (current events) through articles, editorials, editorial cartoons,” Bross said. “We also talk about how you need to synthesize information from these different sources and to check credibility in order to formulate your own opinion. We recognized that there was a need for students to be able to sift through all of these sources because of reasons like fake news or just the abundance of information that they have access to.”
These skills are also taught in AP Language and Composition through a weekly “News You Can Use (NYCU)” assignment. Its purpose is for students to develop “an informed citizenship,” according to the 2016 syllabus.
AP Language and Composition teacher Lori Roth said the College Board sees this as essential.
“We all live really busy lives and it’s really easy to push being informed to the backburner,” Roth said. “NYCU is a quick, easy way to find out what’s going on in the world. Plus, as part of AP, they ask for us to be ‘citizen rhetoricians.’”
Bross said she hopes students become more cognizant of what they read online.
“I’m hoping this is making (students) more aware and more critical viewers,” Bross said. “When they see something, especially on Facebook or on Twitter, not to just retweet or to pass it on and say ‘Look at what I just saw’ but to be able to say ‘This might not be real, and I’m going to use these skills to discern whether or not it is.’”